Mr. Macala


Mr. Macala, 1976 Gage Park High School Yearbook.

When I think of influential people in my life, I don’t often think of teachers. Some teachers merely teach, but others offer valuable lessons that don’t sink in until much later in life. So when I think back to influential teachers like Sister Laverne at Holy Cross School and Enrico Mordini at Divine Heart Seminary, I also recall Robert Macala and would like to add him to my list of influential teachers. Whenever I recall him, it’s as Mr. Macala, as we were taught to address our teachers in high school.

I met Mr. Macala at Gage Park High School because he took my picture for the chess team and when I won a trophy at a chess tournament at the La Salle Hotel in downtown Chicago. I’m not sure how he found out that I had won the trophy, but he came looking for me with his camera and took a picture of me with the trophy. If I’m not mistaken, I believe that he called two girls walking in the hallway to come in and pose with me for another picture. I suppose to give me this aura of being a sexy chess player. I may just be imagining some of the details about the girls as I recall the incident. But it seems so real now as I imagine it. Forgive me if I have embellished the story. Lately, I’ve been recalling events that I have never experienced!

Anyway, Mr. Macala asked me to write a short description about myself and about the chess tournament and he would then publish the picture in the school newspaper. He asked me to write this with such great confidence that I would do it immediately. He just assumed that I was capable of such a simple assignment. But, alas, I never wrote the brief description and my picture never appeared in the school newspaper. He overestimated my capabilities, but I liked the fact that he truly believed I could do it.

I met Mr. Macala again in the summer of 1975 when I attended summer school at Kelly High School and he was the English teacher. I must admit that I had a very bad attitude that summer. I had just failed English in my senior year, so I didn’t graduate. I had to make up the English class during the summer. I truly believed my life was over. FML! That’s how I felt, long before the acronym was even invented.

I worked midnights at Derby Foods, the peanut butter factory, and then went immediately to English class in the morning. I had failed English because I worked and I didn’t sleep enough before my midnight shift. I often fell asleep during my classes. Plus, I didn’t do any of the reading or writing assignments. And, sometimes I didn’t show up to class. Was that any reason to fail me? Oh, yes, I also failed to write the required term paper!

So, I was greatly relieved in summer school when Mr. Macala announced on the first day of class that we wouldn’t have to write a term paper. The whole class breathed a collective sigh of relief! Perhaps the class wouldn’t be so bad after all. I don’t recall all the details about what was taught in class. But I do remember how Mr. Macala kept the class’s attention by straying from the lesson. He did teach us English, even though I don’t remember exactly what, and he also gave us writing assignments. I still have a book report and a couple of assignments that I wrote for Mr. Macala. I was so happy with the class that I actually saved some of the assignments instead of throwing them away as I did with all my other high school classes. Occasionally, he read student papers aloud and I was surprised he read mine. The assignment was to write a letter that you would like to receive. I tried to be funny and apparently he thought it was funny because he read it to the class. No one had ever read my writing to the class in high school before.

What I remember most are the lessons that were not part of the curriculum. He told us stories to entertain us. Some were works in progress, I’m sure, that he was perfecting for future use. He once told us a mystery story. “It was a hot summer day. We ate some apple pie, but there was still once slice left in the pan. We put the pie pan away. I took a nap and when I woke up–the last slice of pie was gone! I never did figure out what happened to it!” Perhaps this doesn’t sound like much of a mystery story to you, gentle reader, but Mr. Macala had a way of telling stories that kept you hanging on his every word.

The story that fascinated me the most was the one about how he started a backgammon club. He loved to play backgammon. Someone suggested that he start a backgammon club. So he put a flyer up at the local supermarkets asking backgammon players to send money to him to join a backgammon club. He was surprised when many people actually sent him money to join. He had to actually follow through with the club. Soon, he was holding backgammon tournaments with prize money. This proved to be a very profitable venture. I learned a very valuable lesson about capitalism, but I had never had the initiative to do anything comparable. I didn’t capitalize on this knowledge.

He also inspired me academically. He told us he wasn’t a very good student in high school, but discovered he was intelligent once he started college. I would remember this fact years later when I contemplated going back to school. I never thought I was a good student either. Ever! I recalled his words when I went back to school. I told myself to do all the homework for all the classes and study for the exams. My goal was to try to get at least a C in every course. Once I applied myself, I discovered that I was a much better student that I had thought. Eventually, I graduated Phi Beta Kappa. Thanks in part to Mr. Macala’s story of his student days.

After high school, I lost track of him. Jim, Vito, and I often remembered Mr. Macala. We all agreed that he was a little wild and crazy. But that’s what appealed to me about him. He was intelligent and a little eccentric. One Saturday night, Jim, Vito, and I were on Rush Street for a night on the town. Picking up girls, the way we always did. That was our joke. Picking up girls the way we always did. Actually, we weren’t very good at picking up girls at all. On Saturday night, one of us would ask, “What do you want to do tonight?’ “I don’t know” “Why don’t we pick up girls!” “Yeah! Let’s pick up girls. Like we always do!” We never managed to pick up even one girl! If a girl fell unconscious in front us, we couldn’t pick her up. Not even if we all lifted at once.

Anyway, we were on Rush Street picking up girls as per usual. Suddenly, we see a man standing at the entrance of a night club, actually called a disco back then. This man was flirting with every woman who walked by. He made comments to every passerby. He started telling us something when we approached him. We all recognized him immediately. “Hi, Mr. Macala!’ We were surprised to see him there. Now that I think back, it makes perfect sense that he’d be there!

Well, of all the teachers who greatly influenced me, Mr. Macala is the only with whom I still communicate. In fact, we are friends on Facebook! He now lives in Florida and he asks me questions about Spanish all the time. The roles seem to have reversed.

Holy Cross Church


Holy Cross Church, Back of the Yards, Chicago, Illinois

I went to Holy Cross Church today after an absence of about thirty-plus years. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew things would be different, but I didn’t quite expect to see so many familiar sights.

Well, to begin with, the church was founded by Lithuanians in Back of the Yards In the early 1900s and they finally built their church in 1913. When I attended Holy Cross in the 1960s, most of the parishioners were Lithuanian. Mexicans were just starting to move into the neighborhood in larger numbers. Mexicans had been moving to Chicago since about the time of the Mexican Revolution around 1910, but they started moving into Back of the Yards in large numbers in the 1930s.  By the time I attended Holy Cross, there were many Mexican parishioners. However, Mexicans also had their own church, Immaculate Heart of Mary, about a half-mile away from Holy Cross.

On Sundays, we usually went to mass at Holy Cross Church, but sometimes our family went to the mass at Immaculate Heart of Mary because the priests said the mass in Spanish. I enjoyed hearing mass in Spanish, so I never complained. Apparently, too many Mexican parishioners from Holy Cross started attending mass at Immaculate Heart of Mary on Sundays. Well, the priests and nuns from Holy Cross didn’t like this at all. Suddenly, we were required to attend Sunday mass at Holy Cross Church. We had to sit with our class and the nuns took attendance. If we didn’t come to Sunday mass at Holy Cross, we had to bring a note from our parents explaining where we were. This was directed at the Mexican students only. But everyone understood the rule. There was no racism involved. If you belonged to a parish and enjoyed the benefits of their Catholic education, you must attend their mass.

Imagine my surprise when I went to Holy Cross Church today and I observed that at least 99% of the people in mass were Mexican, all except the priest who I’m guessing was African and spoke fluent Spanish. The mass was said in Spanish and the children’s choir sang in Spanish to marimba music. I really didn’t expect to see any of my former teachers or classmates, and I didn’t. Well, it turns out that Holy Cross Church and Immaculate Heart of Mary Church have merged since most of the neighborhood is now Mexican.

The new Holy Cross.

I was wondering what the priests and nuns of my school days would say if they saw the church today. Well, at least the church is still alive and well. The Polish parish of Sacred Heart no longer exists. I walked there before mass and was surprised that most of the buildings were demolished and a Chicago public school stood in its place. Holy Cross School no longer exists, but the parish rents out the school building to the Chicago Public Schools. C’est la vie.

Confessions


Holy Cross Church, Back of the Yards, Chicago, Illinois

Some people have more secrets than others. Those who seem to have the most secrets approach me and ask me how I can reveal so much about myself on my blog. Well, I see my blog as a confessional of sorts. This where I purge myself of my past and afterwards feel renewed.

On several occasions, over the past ten years, people have pointed an accusing finger at me and said, “You’re Catholic! What do you think about all the sex scandals in the Catholic church?” Well, the first time, I was caught off-guard by this verbal assault. I didn’t know what to say. I often think about the sex scandals in the church every time I read about them or see them in the news. My whole life has revolved around the Catholic church, either by being an active participant or avoiding it when I didn’t agree with their teachings.

So, I have a confession to make. Despite having spent my whole life actively involved with (or actively avoiding) the church, I have never been sexually molested! And I never witnessed or even suspected anyone of being sexually molested by the Catholic clergy. I don’t deny that the sexual allegations are real. I’m merely saying that I never personally witnessed any or even heard any rumors about any sexual improprieties by the priests or nuns while I was a Catholic student.

At Holy Cross in Back of the Yards where I attended school and church from kindergarten through eighth grade, I was often alone with the Lithuanian priests and nuns. I enjoyed staying after school to help in the classroom with my teachers who were all nuns. I was an altar boy and I was often alone in the sacristy with the priest who said mass. No matter with whom I was, he or she would strike up a conversation and we would talk about school or church. We always had a mutual interest in each other. During my time at Holy Cross, I often thought about becoming a priest because I admired the holiness of the priests and nuns of Holy Cross Church.

After graduating from the eighth grade at Holy Cross School, I began my freshman year at Divine Heart Seminary in Donaldson, Indiana. While visiting DHS in the seventh grade, I was surprised that the seminarians used profanities and were allowed to smoke cigarettes! At Holy Cross these acts were sins and were subject to discipline! After that weekend visit, I decided that I would not attend DHS. However, in the eighth grade, DHS contacted Holy Cross about my attending DHS and Sister Cecilia the principal was so thrilled that I was going to become a priest! So she called my mother with the good news, who was ecstatic that I would become a priest! My pastor also congratulated me on my decision to become a priest when I served mass for him.

No one listened to me when I said that I didn’t want to attend Divine Heart Seminary, nor that I didn’t want to become a priest. But I never said anything bad, or at least what I conceived as “bad,” about the seminary. My fate was sealed. I would attend DHS the following fall. Sister Cecilia announced to my eighth grade class that we were extremely fortunate because we had a vocation in our class. She called my name and I had to stand up at the front of the class so the class could acknowledge me. My life in the eighth grade would never be the same! The girl I had a crush on no longer waited for me after school. When I met up my friends at the park, they would say, “Here comes Father David” and change the subject to something more innocent in the presence of a “priest.”

At DHS, I spent a lot of time alone with priests and brothers. In fact, they were responsible for supervising us. As a teenager, I enjoyed the company of adults who seemed to take a genuine interest in me. We also had to pick a priest for a spiritual adviser. Once a month or so, or more often if necessary, we would meet with our spiritual adviser and discuss our spiritual development. The two of us would be alone in an office for this meeting. Looking back, I suppose this would have been an opportune time for sexual abuse, but nothing of the sort ever happened.

There was another priest that I enjoyed visiting in his office. I spent a lot of time talking to him because I enjoyed talking to him. Once when the Explorers went camping he went with us. He said we could share the same tent. At the campsite, my friends were all having fun in their huge tent, so I said I would set up my sleeping bag with them. The priest I came with said that I had already made a commitment to share a tent with him. I reluctantly put my sleeping bag in his tent. I wasn’t happy about the situation, but I accepted it. That night, I slept with my hand on the handle of my hunting knife. I was angry about having to be in that tent instead of with my friends. Of course, whenever I went camping, I always slept with my hunting knife in my hand. I was a city boy who was dreadfully afraid of the ax murderer!

Years later as an adult, I would look back at this incident and realize that this priest had taught me a valuable lesson about commitment and making promises meant keeping them. In fact, I would often feel guilty that I suspected this priest would do anything to me while we were camping.

Although I didn’t want to attend DHS, I have to admit that I still warmly recall many memories from my seminary days. I left DHS after the Thanksgiving break of my sophomore year. Every time I came home, I would beg my mother not to make me go back. Eventually, after much begging, she agreed to let me stay home.

Now, whenever DHS has a reunion, I always attend. I enjoy meeting my old friends and talking about the good old days. Once I met two of my former classmates for lunch. We were talking about the good times at the seminary. I don’t know why, but I brought up the sex scandals of the Catholic Church and how we had avoided them at DHS. There was an awkward pause. Then, one of my classmates told me how DHS had sexual abuse. They both knew about them. I didn’t ask them how they knew about it. How could I have not known about sexual abuse at DHS? They mentioned two students from our freshman class who didn’t return for their sophomore year. They were molested by the priest with whom I had shared a tent while camping. Then they asked me if I left the seminary because I had been sexually molested at DHS. I was shocked by these revelations and this line of questioning! I was never sexually molested! I left the seminary because I never wanted to attend in the first place! Many students left DHS for a variety of reasons. I’m not sure if I convinced my former classmates that I was never sexually abused, but that’s the honest to God truth.

Well, in the end, I guess I didn’t make any kind of confession, but rather, I spilled my guts.

Isle of the Dead


Chicago Symphony Center

I love music! But I don’t know very much about music. In fact, thousands upon thousands of music books have been written about everything that I do NOT know about music. And, I am proud to say that I have never read even one of those books! Despite the fact that I love music so much.

I really do love music. I listen to music almost every waking moment. But I listen to different kinds of music, depending on where I am. When I’m at UIC, I listen to  rock on my iPhone. When I’m driving, I listen to the oldies. However, whenever I’m home, I listen to 98.7 WFMT. All the time! Even when I’m sleeping. And I always crank up WFMT all the way to eleven. Except when I’m sleeping. Listening to classical music allows me to read or write, or even correct Spanish compositions. I don’t know much about classical music either, even though I listen to it all the time.

Even though I’m not qualified to critique music, I would like to tell you about a concert I attended at the Chicago Symphony Center. I went to see Beyond the Score that explained the structure and meaning of Sergei Rachmoninov’s Isle of the Dead. The orchestra played the works of other composers who influenced Rachmaninov for this piece. It was a multi-media presentation, so there was a giant screen to show pictures of the painting Isle of the Dead that also influenced this piece as the story was narrated. I sat in the third row right in the middle of the screen. When the conductor Vladimir Jurowski came out, he stood right in the middle of the screen, illuminated by it from behind. This ominous sight made such an impression on me that I wanted to take out my camera and take a picture. But I managed to refrain myself. I regret it now. I should have lived a little more dangerously and taken the picture anyway!

So why do I love music so much? I’m not really sure. Why do I especially love classical music even though I don’t understand it? Okay, you really got me on that one!

However, if I think really hard, I picture Sister Cecilia from my school days at Holy Cross. Sister Cecilia was the music director for our school. She would teach the school songs for Sunday mass, for Christmas, and–her favorite holiday–the pastor’s birthday. For Father Edward’s birthday, the school would meet in the assembly hall at least twice a week and we would sing a special birthday song that Sister Cecilia prepared just for him. She would take a current top forty hit and change the lyrics just for Father Edward. For example, one year, she took “Georgie Girl” and we sang “Hey there, Father Edward …” Another year, “What’s It All about, Alfie?” became, “What’s It All about, Father Edward?” Pretty clever, huh? Unfortunately, I can’t remember the rest of the lyrics to these wonderful songs or any of the other songs we sang for Father Edward’s birthday.

Sister Cecilia went through great pains to teach the entire school these songs. When we met to rehearse, she would pass out the sheet music with her new, improved lyrics. She was very demanding. We would stand at attention while we sang and she would walk among our ranks ensuring that everyone sang. She would tell us, “Open your mouths wide when you sing! I should be able to put a silver dollar in your mouth when you sing!” Things didn’t always go smoothly. Sometimes she would yell at us if too many students sang out of key. She would yell, “Look at the music! If the note goes up, your voice goes up, too!” I always sang at my best when she stood directly in front of me. The rest of the time I merely lip-synced the words. I think I was ahead of my time.

When we got a new pastor, Father Mikolaitis, she didn’t seem that enthusiastic about his birthday celebration. In fact, we never called our new pastor by his first name.

In the seventh and eighth grades, we took a music appreciation class, taught by none other than Sister Cecilia. I actually enjoyed this class. I don’t remember much from this class. Well, I do remember f – a – c – e and every good boy does fine, but other than that, not much. My favoritie part of the class was learning about the orchestra. She would place the phonograph that came in a box that always reminded me of a traveling valise. She would put it on her desk and play a 78 rpm record. The narrator described all the instruments of the orchestra one by one. Each instrument would demonstrate its range and what it was capable of playing. I was truly fascinated by this information. To this day, I recognize most of the instruments of the orchestra. Sometimes, I like to amaze my friends with my knowledge of music while we listen to classical music, despite insisting that we listen to something else. Ever the veritable font of wisdom that I am, I will correctly point out, “Did you hear that instrument? THAT was a triangle!” And they’ll stare at me with their mouth gaping. Because I know that they’re truly amazed by my knowledge of the classical music and the orchestra!

Mayor Daley


Daley Library, University of Illinois at Chicago

As a lifelong Chicagoan, Mayor Daley has always been part of my life. And by Mayor Daley, I mean both Richard J. Daley and Richard M. Daley. As a boy I lived under the reign of Richard Da First. In Back of the Yards, everyone knew Mayor Daley because his name always appeared on some of our neighborhood programs and in daily conversation. At Holy Cross, the Lithuanian nuns told us how Mayor Daley went to mass every day and therefore a good Catholic and Chicagoan. Mayor Daley was a man of mythic proportions.

When Mayor Richard J. Daley died in 1976, I, along with many of my family and friends, were in shock. Mayor Daley was the only man we had known as The Mayor of Chicago. The last time I had such a feeling was when President Kennedy was assassinated. There was a period of alienation for Chicagoans during the interregnum until the next Mayor Daley was elected.

All true Chicagoans rejoiced when Richard M. Daley was elected mayor. The present Mayor Daley (Richard Da Second) is always highly criticized and panned for his politics and poor diction (like father, like son), but he always gets reelected, in part because of his father’s fame and reputation as good Chicagoan.

My life has crossed paths with the Daley family on many occasions. And I’m extremely thankful for that connection. Even when I’m not thinking about the Daleys, they remind me of their existence in some surprising way. Of course, there are all the signs at the Chicago airports to which Mayor Daley welcomes you. Then when I least expect it, I see another reminder somewhere totally unexpected. Once, when I was studying at the Saint Xavier University Library, I went to admire a stained glass window. I then noticed a small plaque that dedicated this window to Joseph Daley, father of Richard J. Daley who donated the window.

By good fortune, I was assigned to guard the home of Eleanor “Sis” Daley, the widow of Richard J. Daley, when I was a police officer. No police officer wanted to work the detail because it was perhaps the most boring assignment on the job, so as the rookie, I was assigned to sit it front of the house. I was attending UIC and I used to study while in the unmarked car. No one complained because I was always alert and awake and actually guarding the house. Sis once asked me if I was bored out there, so I told her I was going to school and the guard duty allowed me to catch up on my reading. When I finally graduated, somehow I made it into the Chicago Sun-Times for a Chicago profile. Sis saw my profile and asked me to come into her house. She told me that she was proud of me. She said that her husband wanted to build a university in Chicago for students just like me and that was why UIC existed. She said that UIC was Mayor Daley greatest source of pride!

I thought it was a momentous occasion when Mayor Richard J. Daley’s writings went to the UIC library and the library was named after him. Yet another way that Mayor Daley impacted my life!

Confirmation


Most Holy Redeemer Church, Evergreen Park, Illinois

My son Adam was confirmed today. And I recalled many things past and present about being Roman Catholic.

The holy sacrament of Confirmation is usually the fourth sacrament that a Roman Catholic receives. A Christian baby is baptized soon after birth and then around the age of eight makes his or her Confession and receives his or her First Holy Communion. Then around age twelve or thirteen, usually, he or she makes a conscious decision to denounce Satan and become a Christian, unlike Baptism where an innocent baby has no choice but to be baptized a Catholic.

I am a Roman Catholic (or just plain Catholic). There were times in the past when I told people that I was an ex-Catholic or a lapsed Catholic. I was once hospitalized at St. Anthony’s Hospital and when I was asked my religion I said, “Catholic” just out of guilt. A Catholic priest then came to visit me everyday. I told him that I wasn’t sure if I was still Catholic and he told me that it was normal to doubt. Now, whenever someone asks me my religion, I say I’m Catholic. If I think about Catholicism very objectively, I realize that, once you go through all of my religious training, I will always be a Catholic and never an ex- or lapsed Catholic. That would be the equivalent of saying, “I used to be Mexican.”

Today, I tried to compare Adam’s confirmation to mine. But I couldn’t remember my confirmation because I was baptized in México when I was about two months old. When it came time for my class to get confirmed at Holy Cross, my mother told me that I was already confirmed. That was news to me! Whenever we had confirmation classes, Sister Cecilia would just look at me with disdain and shake her head. She couldn’t understand how Mexicans could confirm babies. That was so contradictory to the whole concept of confirming that one voluntarily and willingly wanted to be a Catholic. Well, I was an outsider during the whole confirmation process. I had to go to the Confirmation, but I couldn’t sit with the class because I wasn’t getting confirmed. I didn’t feel very Catholic that day. Or today when I tried to compare my confirmation with my son’s.

I was happy for my son, but this was an awkward day for me. Since the divorce, we no longer celebrate anything as a family. But such is life.

So did I miss out on anything by being comfirmed so young?

Happy Birthday, Chicago!


City of Chicago Seal

The City of Chicago was incorporated on March 4, 1837, and the world has never been the same since. Chicago helped shape American history. No one in Chicago actually celebrates this birthday, but true Chicagoans are always aware when March 4 comes and goes without any fanfare.

The City of Chicago Seal was adopted officially in June of 1837. I will try my best to explain the symbols in the seal. I will rely on my memory, which isn’t always very accurate, to recall facts and myths I have heard or read. I remember a  little from the Chicago History course I had to take way back in the fourth grade. The Lithuanian nuns at Holy Cross School were just crazy about Chicago History. I’m not sure if there’s even an official explanation of the seal anywhere, but I will try my best to explain its symbolism.

The shield represents the United States of America. The colors of the American flag are represented as are the original thirteen American colonies by the thirteen stripes. The sheaf of wheat represents our abundant agriculture and fertility. The ship represents either Columbus, the Europeans, or the Pilgrims arriving in the New World. The ship is seen and/or greeted by a Native American. In the fourth grade they were called Indians, but we all know that Indians is a misnomer because Columbus never did reach the East Indies as he had planned. Well, Native American isn’t a very good term either. After all, America was named after Amerigo Vespucci who did a better job of selling and publicizing the New World to the Spanish Catholic Monarchs.

The baby in the seashell represents a new beginning. I suppose it also has echoes of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. I remember during Mayor Harold Washington’s reign, some of the African-American alderman wanted to get rid of the white baby because it was a racist symbol. The baby might have been legislated out of the seal, but then someone projected the cost of removing the white baby from every place it appeared in Chicago into the millions of dollars. And so, the City of Chicago still has a white baby. We have learned to live quite well with the white baby.

At the very bottom is the Chicago motto: Urbs in horto, which means city in the garden in Latin. Well, we are a city, but we are no longer in the middle of a garden. And you can thank urban sprawl for that!